Another inspiring summer of dance: DanceAspen closes out Vail Dance Festival in style |

Another inspiring summer of dance: DanceAspen closes out Vail Dance Festival in style

Kimberly Nicoletti
Katherine Bolaños and Blake Krapels of DanceAspen performing 'in the end.'
Christopher Duggan

The 2022 Vail Dance Festival came to a close Tuesday night at the Ford Amphitheater, but the experiences continue to echo — both in the community and nationwide — through the dancers themselves.

Known for its artist collaboration and its ability to wow audiences with some of the best dancers and companies in the nation, this summer’s dance festival presented innovative choreography, three dance companies new to Vail and a host of inspirational events and performances during its 12-day stint.

Artist-in-residence and New York City Ballet soloist Roman Mejia talked about how he learned to pace himself and get through “a lot of hard dance” during the festival, at Dance for $20.22 Tuesday night. At 22, he’s the festival’s youngest artist-in-residence.

He excelled at George Balanchine’s “Tarantella” there same night, delivering a stronger performance than his part in “Other Dances” on Opening Night. He fully danced “Tarantella” with control, power, ease and joy, as if it were choreographed just for him.

Meanwhile, Tiler Peck showcased the exact kind of lightness, grace and strength that makes people fall in love with ballet. The pair was brilliant in the invigorating ballet piece.

Roman Mejia and Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s ‘Tarantella’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.
Christopher Duggan

Even before “Tarantella,” Dance for $20.22 had audience members on their feet. The night opened with fellow artist-in-residence Caili Quan’s “Press Play,” which she originally choreographed for BalletX as a Zoom film during the pandemic, to portray the “feeling of coming together to dance the night away.”

Four artists from DanceAspen, a company barely a year old created by former dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performing company (after its restructuring, due to challenges the pandemic brought) showed just how technically and artistically skilled they are through the fun piece. Though they had already performed it during Opening Night and Sunday at the Vilar, it just never gets old. Between Quan’s innovative choreography and the dancer’s skill (which, right from the start caused one man next to me to audibly exclaim “wow” over a dancer’s balanced control), “Press Play” set the tone for a night of amazing artistry.

Similar to their great offering of “Piéce d’Occasion” on Opening Night, Robbie Fairchild, former principal at the New York City Ballet, joined Dorrance Dance company member Byron Tittle in a spectacular tap piece, punctuated by Fairchild’s soaring leaps. Each presented an entertaining style that brought plenty of audience members to their feet.

An excerpt from “Underscored” hardly looked like it was “in process,” as three dancers from Ephrat Asherie Dance and guest artist Dario Natarelli crushed it with a blend of tap, African-American and Latinx street and social dance. Natarelli’s mad skills tapping complemented his graceful side, which often made it look like he was effortlessly gilding (or skating) across the stage.

Natarelli, who was born in Vail, talked about his rich experience at the festival in a casual conversation after the show.

“I learned a lot (from the festival), especially this year,” he said, adding that Ephrat Asherie Dance opened up a new world to him in terms of sharing house dance. “It was like being an artist-in-residence.”

Just before “Tarantella,” DanceAspen gave another stellar showing, this time through the gorgeous and intricate intertwining of “in the end.” Set as Katherine Bolaños’ retirement performance after dancing with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for 18 years, she and partner Blake Krapels danced it with the expertise and grace of the seasoned professionals they are. Violinist Min Tze Wu accompanied the pair on stage in the viscerally moving piece.

Tuesday’s audience received quite a treat for their affordable ticket not only before intermission, but also after, when festival dancers offered their world premiere, “I Made This for You.”

Chris Thile and festival dancers in ‘I Made This for You’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan

Choreographed by Justin Peck, various dancers from different companies intermingled in a fascinating blend of house, ballet, contemporary and more. As dancers transitioned in and out of solos, trios and group formations, the seamless movements imparted a communal feeling and flow.

Bluegrass musician Chris Thile of Punch Brothers joined the dancers on stage and often took center stage, giving the audience a special concert, belting out vocals and masterfully playing the mandolin like no one’s business.

Thile ended with a wonderful version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”; and, even though the festival sadly came to an end, it was all right because the fulfilling evening promised another great summer to come in 2023.

Justin Peck and Patricia Delgado in ‘I Made This For You’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan
Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Tarantella at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.
Christopher Duggan